Curiosity is often what drives my gravel riding. I’ll see a road and wonder where it goes. Sometimes, I’ll check it out first by car. If it looks fun and interesting to ride, I’ll start looking at my Gazetteer maps to figure out what other roads I can link it to for a decent ride.

That was the case with Hatch Road, off Eaton’s Brownfield Road. At the sharp corner in the road, it shoots up the hill on the left, heading east. Somewhere along the way, it crosses the Maine border. In 1.6 miles, it ends at its T- junction with Chamberlain Road, also known as Fire Lane 26. A right turn there by Chamberlain Farm descends quickly in .8 miles to meet what is called Hampshire Road after crossing the border.

After driving this route and seeing it mentioned in a N.H. Gravel Facebook group post, I decided I needed to ride it. Though it had a challenging hill in the beginning, the dirt road looked in good shape and presented scenic outlooks. The challenge was how to fit this link into a longer chain of roads to create a stimulating ride.

Armed with my map, I could imagine all sorts of scenarios and routes. However, paper maps don’t always give you topographical information. What looks easy to pedal in a two-dimensional format becomes something else “on the ground.” I knew from past experience driving and riding some of the roads off Brownfield Road that climbs could be steep and long. To tackle them, you have to have the right gearing, energy, and time.

Last Monday, I decided to try the Hatch Road link. Because it was a cool, breezy day and I got started late, I put aside my desire for an “epic” ride. Instead, I came up with a reasonable ride that would match my time, energy, and gravel bike gearing. My goal was to link together some dirt roads I had ridden before with Hatch and Chamberlain Roads to make an out and back loop. I knew some paved road riding would be needed to make all the connections.

Planning a ride includes the logistics of where to start and where to park unless you’re starting from home. Off Potter Road, I turned left onto Greeley Road. At the Eaton snowplow turn around on the left, .2 miles up the road, I pulled in and parked. Red paint on the trees marked this as the Eaton/Conway town line.

Starting the ride on Greeley commits you to climb right away. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to start with no warmup, but I went for it anyway. I reasoned on this chilly day, I’d warm up quickly. That I did! I was huffing and puffing as I climbed the steep pitches. The autumn colors and dappled light made it worthwhile. Passing or seeing no one, I enjoyed the quiet and solitude.

At a little over a mile, near the top of the road, the sight of open fields of brown and gold told me I was nearing the Leavitt /Littlefield/Greeley roads junction. I turned right to take Littlefield to its junction with Birch Hill. Pedaling out of the trees, I came to one of my favorite views. Across open fields lined with apple trees, I could see distant mountains. A quick Birch Hill descent brought me to Green Frog Rock on Brownfield Road.

A left turn and a .2 mile spin brought me to the bottom of Hatch Road. As I turned left again, the serious cranking began as I climbed that steep hill at the beginning. After that, this 1.6-mile road settled into a series of ups and downs. It passed by woods, stone walls and old farmhouses and camps. At the bottom of a hill, a swollen Shepherds River flowed under the road into a deep pool. I thought of fishing there next season, wondering whether I was in New Hampshire or Maine.

A snowplow turn around up the road answered my question. At that point, I was entering Maine. The road’s condition changed slightly but was fine for riding. As I neared its end, I spotted dogs and people in bright orange walking ahead. They knew it’s hunting season and everyone better be visible.

As I passed the dog walkers, open fields and an old barn ahead told me I’d come to Chamberlain Farm. I stopped there to admire the view of hills, mountains, and a wind turbine in the distance. Turning right at Chamberlain Road junction, I headed downhill. A Christmas tree farm on my left reminded me of holidays to come.

At Hampshire Road, I turned right to ride pavement back up infamous “Asparagus Hill.” That was a good climb! After conquering that, I pedaled on gentle ups and downs until I reached the NH/Maine border signs. Where a swamp frames the road, I stopped to look for red berries where in warmer weather, I’d be looking for birds and snapping turtles.

Passing by Hatch Road turn, I continued on to Birch Hill and Frog Rock. I had ridden almost 2.5 miles on pavement and was eager to get on dirt again. Climbing only .1 miles up, I turned at Birch Hill/Littlefield junction to take what I call, the “Cup Handle.” It’s one of my favorite links. It takes me back in time, past old farmhouses, barns, and stone walls. It’s always shady and quiet. As I passed a red paint-marked tree, I knew I was exiting Eaton and entering Conway. Up ahead, in clearings, I could see Conway Lake and mountains in the distance.

A steep descent brought me back to the Greeley Road junction. It was all downhill from there! Before I knew it, I was back at my car. My finished route was less than 10 miles, but judging from how my legs felt, it was a good workout. I enjoyed the uphill challenges and the downhill fun. Interesting scenery along the way kept me motivated.

There are other routes I’d like to try in this area, combining these links and others to make longer ride chains. Maybe, with more time and gears, I’ll tackle those steep hills-Stewart, Bull Pasture and Bush roads — on Brownfield Road’s south side to make a longer ride. On another day, I could stay on the north side and extend it by adding links of Potter and Gulf roads. There are all kinds of possibilities!

Be curious and find new places to ride and explore. That’s what gravel riding is all about!

Upcoming events

Jackson Ski Touring Foundation Annual Ski Swap, Saturday, Nov. 6, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

Eastern Slope Ski Club (ESSC) 51st Annual Ski Sale, Friday, Nov. 12, 2-7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 13. 9 a.m. to noon, at the North Conway Community Center.

Sally McMurdo is a bike safety instructor and cyclist who lives in Conway.

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